Leave it to American marketers to take something simple and make it complicated. One of Michael Pollan’s food rules is “Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients.” Simple right? It should be, but marketers have hijacked this simple rule that Pollan and others follow and are trying to use it to their advantage.

This rule is supposed to help people chose healthier whole foods. The makers of sugary soft drinks, ice cream and chips are hoping that consumers will think that just because one of their products has five or less ingredients, it falls into the healthy category. They aren't explicitly calling their products "health food" but they'd certainly like you to come to that conclusion with their help.

The Washington Post reports that Haagen Dazs, Frito Lay and Snapple all have marketing campaigns focusing on their simple ingredients.

  • Haagen Dazs has a new line of ice cream called Five. Only five ingredients make up their ice cream. Sure, one of the main ingredients is sugar, but there are only five ingredients, and you can recognize all of them.
  • Frito Lay is emphasizing that their chip products contain only three ingredients. Yep, you should see potato chips and Fritos as good food choices simply because of the number of ingredients.
  • Snapple is advertising their Natural ice teas made of “real sugar.” See real sugar is better than high fructose corn syrup, so drink all you want.
While it could be argued that choosing Haagen Dazs 5 over an ice cream made with tapioca maltodextrin, cellulose gum, mono and diglycerides, natural flavor, guar gum, and carrageenan is a better choice, it doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice. The same could be said about choosing plain chips over Cheetos (also made by Frito Lay) or Snapple Natural over Coke.

We have to use a little common sense, though. There are better choices and then there are good choices. Chips on the side of your sandwich for lunch are probably better than Cheetos but not as good as carrot sticks. Get it?

I’m not saying you can never have ice cream (heaven forbid!) or chips or Snapple. I’m saying you need to understand what they are – junk food that is a little better for you than some other junk food. Don’t let the fact that they have five or fewer ingredients or the fact that they are made with “real sugar” fool you into thinking they are everyday foods.

Image: Chesi-Fotos


Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Marketers hijack 'five or fewer'
'Don't eat anything with more than five ingredients' should be a simple rule, but it's getting complicated.